The Concealed Carry Lifestyle

I’ve always been a staunch conservative and firm supporter in our nation’s Constitution (note the capital “C”), a document that continues to govern our people through Democrat and Republican administrations alike. I am and always will be a strong and vocal supporter of our Second Amendment rights; our Founding Fathers chose the words “shall not be infringed” very carefully. I am also a firm believer that with every right comes a responsibility . . .

Responsibility & Duty

When someone decides to get their concealed handgun license (CHL), they do more than just attend a class and take a shooting test. For better or for worse, they decide to change their lifestyle. They don’t just “strap on a six shooter” like the old westerns’ depict. When someone exercises their Second Amendment rights and carries a concealed handgun, they take on an extra burden and a significant responsibility to themselves, their family and their community.

Carrying a concealed handgun doesn’t make you Superman. It won’t make you any stronger or any faster. If you carry a concealed handgun and feel somehow tougher, more confident or less afraid, it’s time to put up your firearm and see a shrink. Most people that have carried concealed for several years describe their feeling as a sense of “duty” or “responsibility.” That’s exactly right.

When you carry a concealed firearm you are held to a higher standard of conduct by society—which makes perfect sense. You carry the means to protect life and to deal out death. You become more than an average citizen hoping that the violence continues to pass you by. You become responsible for your own fate and for the fate of those you choose to protect. By carrying a concealed handgun you have decided to become something more than you were before. You are no longer a potential victim and you are no man’s prey.

Lifestyle Changes

Carrying a firearm comes with an awesome set of responsibilities. There are an almost endless set of rules and regulations that you must live by (depending upon where you live) and lifestyle changes that will affect you, your family and your job. None of these lifestyle changes are easy. All come at a cost in both financial and personal terms.

Which Firearm to Carry?

Choosing the right firearm to carry concealed is a primary consideration. Choose incorrectly and you’ll waste a lot of money. Make a really foolish choice and you could end up dead.

I carried a Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm Pro Series for several years before switching to a Kimber 1911. Like a lot of “old timers,” I never liked the weight and balance of a polymer gun. But concealing a full size 1911 is pretty tough unless you’re a very big person. Luckily, Kimber makes a full line of lightweight, alloy frame carry pistols like the Tactical II Ultra.

Stock or Modified?

There’s nothing wrong with carrying a stock handgun. Manufacturers offer an enormous selection of pistols in a farrago of sizes and calibers. The chances of finding a carry gun that suits your skills and physical characteristics are high. If you’re confused, head to your local range and rent a number of guns to find the system, style and caliber weapon you can shoot accurately and reliably.

Most gun ranges and gun dealers will let you try on a holster with a safety-checked weapon. Do so. But don’t assume that you’ll get it right the first time. And don’t be afraid to “roll your own.” For example . . .

Kimber and I differ somewhat on the features that are important in a small frame 1911. So I set about to create my “Perfect Ultra for Concealed Carry” using the highest quality aftermarket parts I could afford. Yes, I would love to carry around a Bill Wilson Carry Model but $3250 is a bit steep for my taste.

My goal in replacing the parts shown above: create a carry weapon that’s both lightweight and concealable. I started by throwing out the factory stock magazine with it’s large plastic base. I replaced it with a Wilson Combat 47OCX (compact 7-round, stainless steel with a low profile steel base) magazine. Wilson makes what I believe are the most reliable 1911 magazines on the market today; the stainless steel models with nylon followers are top notch.

To prevent my Ultra from snagging my clothing I replaced the factory stock ambidextrous thumb safety with a Wilson Combat “Tactical Lever” thumb safety. It’s much smoother and smaller than Kimber’s thumb safeties. I also replaced the stock slide release with Wilson’s extended slide release, allowing me to fully manipulate all my carry pistol’s “controls” without breaking my grip.

To trim a 1/4th inch from the overall height I removed the stock mag well and plastic mainspring housing. I replaced these parts with a Wilson Combat blued steel mainspring housing. I also replaced the factory standard thumb safety with a Kimber “tactical bump” thumb safety. To fit the new bump safety and mainspring housing took only a few minutes with a jeweler’s file and some Birchwood Casey “Cold Blue” to prevent rust.

To finish off my customizations I chose a set of VZ Grips’ “Elite Tactical Carry” grips. Their unique design incorporates an extremely grippy surface where your fingers rest—whilst providing a smooth surface to prevent your clothing from snagging when carrying concealed.

 The finished gun is shown above and below. On the left side: all the controls needed to comfortably run this weapon when the need arises. On the right side: a compact and smooth profile to prevent “printing” when carrying concealed.

So what did all this cost me in terms of time, effort and cold, hard cash?

Kimber Tactical II Ultra $1250.00
Wilson Combat (47OCX) Magazine $37.95
Wilson Combat (92BFO) Mainspring Housing $46.95
Wilson Combat (6BNBP) Tactical Thumb Safety $57.95
Wilson Combat (7B) Extended Slide Release $32.95
Kimber (1100634A) Tactical Bump Grip Safety $34.95
VZ Grips’ Elite Tactical Carry Grips $65.00

My Total: $1525.75
The Wilson Combat “Ultralight Carry Compact”: $3250.00

Which Holster to Carry?

Once you decide upon your carry pistol of choice, your next major decision is which holster (and magazine carrier) to carry it in. This is where you can spend a small fortune in trying to find the “perfect” concealed carry holster to fit both your weapon and yourself. Most of us that have carried for years have a secret collection of holsters stashed away somewhere in the hope that our wives will never find them.

In the world of concealed carry holsters you have two major decisions to make; IWB or OWB and Leather or Kydex. I’ll make this simple for you. If you’re over 50 with a normal spare-tire around the middle, forget about inside the waistband holsters. If you’re young, in good shape and don’t mind buying your pants one size too big, then by all means give IWB holsters a shot. For most folks however, a high-ride, OWB holster is a much better fit and all you need is a strong (stiff) belt to support the gun’s extra weight.

The decision between leather and Kydex is much less simple but much more important. Like most folks I love the look and feel of a new leather holster but after wearing one for many years I’ve come to the conclusion that Kydex just makes better sense over the long run. Leather holsters start out stiff but flexible and they easily accommodate most weapon platforms on the market today.

There are literally thousands of different leather holsters to chose from with new models being released every year. But leather holsters have one inherent weakness, they stretch over time and become weaker and less rigid. Take a look at any leather holster that’s been worn daily for over a year and you’ll see what I mean. Try running a leather holster in Houston’s heat and humidity and you’ll find that holstering your firearm takes two hands and both eyes.

 Kydex holsters on the other hand, never lose their form or shape no matter what environment they are worn in.  They make drawing your weapon from concealment fast and reliable and also make it possible to holster your weapon with one hand and no peeking.

In the past many Kydex holsters had several major design flaws. They were generally too big, too bulky and too heavy to conceal properly. They were also “butt ugly” as we like to say here in Texas. And finally, they were noisy and scratched the finish right off your expensive firearm. Today however, things have changed and companies like Raven Concealment and Garrett Industries make Kydex holsters specifically designed for the concealed carry market.

My favorite carry holsters today are Garrett’s “Silent Thunder” leather-lined Kydex holsters like the STX and Champion models shown in the image above. Ron & Sheryl Garrett are native Texans that have been making top quality leather and Kydex holsters for years. The Silent Thunder series has many features found only in much more expensive all-leather holsters such as soft leather lining to protect the finish of your carry gun, high quality stainless steel hardware and a very (VERY) slim profile designed to ride high and to hug your body.

With no hard edges to catch your clothing the Silent Thunder holsters are also the most concealable I’ve every carried. Even my college age daughter can conceal an Officer’s model 1911 on her strong side with this holster, not to mention an extra magazine in the matching mag carrier from Garrett Industries. These holster really do live up to their name and drawing from this holster is fast and silent due to the leather lining.

Clothing Choices

The first new article of clothing you’ll need when you decide to carry concealed is a new belt. Don’t laugh guys. That nice thin dress belt hanging in your closet is never going to hold the weight of your holster and gun, let alone keep your pants up. Your going to need a sturdy leather or nylon “operators” belt specifically designed to retain its shape and keep your firearm firmly in place. I prefer a nylon riggers belt with a stiff insert to hold my 1911 and holster but there are many good leather belts on the market that perform just as well.

This goes double for you gals out there too. If you plan to carry concealed those sexy, low riding, hip-hugger jeans with no belt is just not going to work. It’s darn tough to hide even a small firearm if your skin-tight blue jeans are halfway down to your hips ladies.

Another change in wardrobe will be your choice in shirts. If you’re a strapping young lad used to wearing tight t-shirts to impress the ladies you’ll find this change a wee bit harder than us old farts do. In fact, to successfully conceal a handgun under any shirt requires a lot of thought and a bit of experimentation. If you normally wear a polo style shirt you’ll need to buy at least one size larger and plan to wear it untucked at all times. A better choice might be a 5.11 Covert Casual shirt (shown above) which snaps down the front and is cut both wider and longer to help conceal your firearm. These type of shirts are usually available in darker colors which also help hide your weapon. Remember, the whole idea of carrying concealed is to make sure no one knows you have a gun.

A word to the wise about those cool new “tactical” pants and shorts. Leave them for range time guys. Nothing says “newbie shooter” more than a pair of coyote brown tactical pants walking around a Walmart. Good quality, waist-high blue jeans are a much better choice for any CHL holder. You “fit in” almost anywhere in the US wearing blue jeans these days and no one even notices.

One more thing about carrying concealed in the summer. Wearing shorts and carrying concealed is darn near impossible in my opinion. To cover your holster and firearm your shirt has to hang to mid-thigh length. Wear this long of shirt with shorts and folks are gonna notice that something’s just not quite right about you. Once they start looking, they can usually spot your weapon “printing” in a few seconds. The key to carrying concealed is to appear casual, normal and ordinary. Anything that draws attention to you or your clothing is a big giveaway.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you want to carry concealed day in and day out without anyone the being the wiser, you’ll need to practice. You should plan to wear your holster (without your firearm) and your new carry outfit (shirt, pants, belt, etc.) for several weeks almost everywhere you go. Get comfortable putting your car keys in your left front pocket (assuming you carry your holster on the right) to prevent anyone from getting a look at your holster. Practice getting in and out of your vehicle without “showing leather” as the old timers like to say. Get used to holding down the hem of your shirt in a stiff breeze until it comes naturally.

Once you do start carrying, practice around your family until you can sit down for Sunday dinner without your wife and kids suspecting that you’re armed. If you can fool your own kids, the world at large will never know. If your kids know you’re “packing” keep practicing until they can’t tell. Buy larger shirts. Adjust your clothing style to find out what works best for you. Most of all, take the time to become “comfortable” carrying your firearm. Practice at home first and then take your “Wally Walk”.

The more comfortable you are with carrying, the more easily you can conceal what you carry. This is especially true in today’s world of almost constant terrorist threats, TSA pat downs and neighborhood watches. Everyone is watching everyone else these days just looking for something “out of place”. If you are nervous carrying your firearm, it will show in a thousand little ways (tells). Once you become comfortable with your gun, holster and new wardrobe you should be able to carry concealed any place where it’s legal without anyone being the wiser. When you’re ready to test yourself, carry to your local gun store and shop for some cleaning supplies or a new magazine or such. When you check out, ask the cashier if he knew you were carrying. These guys are sharp and if they didn’t know, no one else will either!

Jeff Lynch
Jeff Lynch Photography, Ltd.
Sugar Land, Texas
Blog - Serious Amateur Photography
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